WordPress Themes

By Shamus Posted Sunday May 14, 2006

Filed under: Random 17 comments

A few days about I mentioned that Cineris has started a new blog. It now has a name, and the author is going through the process of picking out a visual theme for the site. This is always tough. Since you shouldn’t change the theme of your site very often, this is a bit like picking out an outfit to wear for the next couple of years.

There are hundreds – maybe even thousands by now – of WordPress themes. Generally I divide themes into two broad categories:

  1. Attractive designs that are painful to read or navigate.
  2. Butt-ugly

For this site I’m actually using a very modified version of the WordPress Default Theme. It looked simple and I liked it, and I thought, “I’ll just put some dice at the top and I’ll be done!”


I’ve been tinkering with it ever since. I thought all I wanted from a theme was easy to read and mildly attractive, but as I used the site I realized there were all sorts of things I wanted the site to do. I wanted a little icon for each category. (If this has been a group blog, I would have made this an icon for the author. I HATE reading a group blog and not knowing who I’m reading until I get to the end of the post!) I wanted a broad horizontal bar to seperate one post from the next. I wanted to put all the post info (who wrote it, when it was written, what category it’s filed under, etc) to be contained within that bar, so that isn’t mixed up with the interesting content, but so that its available.

At first I had a calender, but I realized it was sort of useless. It’s not like I’m doing current events here. I’m writing about years-old anime and videogames, so who cares when it was written? For the most part you could swap the posts between any two months and it wouldn’t change a thing. Try that on a political blog!

I’ve made so many changes that I think I’ve replaced just about every aspect of the original theme. Every time I think the look is “done” I manage to come up with a few more adjustments. I actually think this steady evolution is better than trying to find the perfect theme right off the shelf. If I had to start over, I’d take the same approach: Find something simple and easy on the eyes, and tinker with it until I have something that fits the needs of the site.


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17 thoughts on “WordPress Themes

  1. mark says:

    “I actually think this steady evolution is better than trying to find the perfect theme right off the shelf.”

    Indeed. My design is actually the 4th or 5th incarnation (depending on what you call a redesign), though it’s been mostly the same for roughly 5 years. Looking back, there were really only 3 major changes in design. But there were literally dozens if not hundreds of tweaks here and there.

  2. I’m a relative wordpress newbie. I’ve been tweaking blogger templates for years, but I am just blown away by how simple WP makes things. My prior knowledge of PHP was helpful but really anyone can do it, which is what I think accounts for such varied designs and healthy template experimentation.

    I’ve settled on the K2 theme myself as my “base” template. Then I just tinker – mostly with the sidebar. As you said, mark – it’s mostly minor changes that add up over time (in my case, only a few months at haibane.info :)

    What I want to do is add more dynamic content. I love the dice rolls here – inspired by that, I’d like to actually put up a rotating audio snippet from Hitchhiker’s Guide, I have a library of over 200 samples each only a few seconds long that would be great to cycle through.

    But even more important than template design is I think content organization. How best to use Pages, for example? That sort of thing. I am still figuring out how I want to approach that.

  3. . says:

    Wow, interesting — The trackback thing worked, and it actually found the specific portion of the post where I talked about the site. Very cool.

  4. Back with USS Clueless, I had a quite primitive layout that I used for about a year, and finally got dissatisfied with it. I worked for three weeks to develop a new format, and went through 22 different versions of it. I posted preliminary versions of it several times to collect comments from my readers, and eventually ended up with one I was satisfied with. That one lasted me until I stopped posting on USS Clueless entirely.

    The Chizumatic site format is much simpler and I really don’t have too much need to make it any more fancy, except that when I get around to it I’m going to start using Citydesk again, and then there will be links on individual entries. But the main page will still look pretty much like it does now.

    A site doesn’t have to be fancy; functional is much better. Most sites are massively overformatted.

    But eye candy doesn’t bring readers back again (unless it’s cheesecake). It’s compelling content (or cheesecake) that brings readers back again.

  5. Alex says:

    I am technologically incompetent, and thus I cannot do more with my site than I have already done. When I read code, my brain just switches off and floats away to fairy land.
    I envy people who can do good things with their sites, but there are some things beyond our grasps.

  6. Dan says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…. wha huh. running out of interesting topics to talk about I see.

  7. Dan says:

    I’ll help, has Pat watched Advent Children yet

  8. ubu roi says:

    So are you using 1.5.2 or have you gone to WP 2.0 yet? How did upgrading go if so?

    I am working off a modified Kubrik theme, but I’m told that it’s actually one of the more difficult ones to modify. I believe it, as it’s given me fits to do the little that I have. (I don’t know PHP from drugs.) K2 claims to be designed for easy modding, maybe I’ll give it a shot….

  9. Shamus says:

    I’m using 2.0. The upgrade was painless – really I just made a backup and copied the new files in and boom! New version.

    In an ideal world, the default template would be easier to modify. There are all sorts of annoying surprises in the CSS that will frustrate you. As an example, the CSS overrides align=right or align=left on IMG tags. Speaking of being on drugs.

    Early on I got around this by sticking my images into tables, which would align=left or align=right just fine. I expect that all of the Kubrick variants have goofyness like this in them.

  10. Ubu Roi says:

    Yep, I had to solve the alignment problem the same way, which is annoying. Sometimes the text is too long, so it doesn’t wrap around the pictures; it makes the cell taller instead. I spent last night fiddling with the sidebar–so of course I’ll junk the whole theme soon. Heh.

    Good to hear about the painless 2.0 upgrade; I’ve seen so many horror stories, I’ve been afraid to try it.

  11. Gothmog says:

    Put the image tag into a table! *smacks head* Now why on earth didn’t I think of that?

    Shamus, I gotta say, your WordPress theme is VERY impressive. I keep noticing little things that are cool- mainly because I’ve tried to implement similar features with spectacularly bad/disasterous results. :P

    Any chance you’d let em peek at some of your theme php code to see how you did certain things?

    Examples of things I wish I knew how you accomplished:
    The random images at header and footer (random quote as well), the previous and next links in category at the bottom and top of each post, and the post header graphics (category pictures and other header graphic- are they one pic? or two seperate one floating on the other?).

  12. Shamus says:

    Any chance you'd let em peek at some of your theme php code to see how you did certain things?

    Sure. I think I’d do better to release it as code snippets, rather than releasing the whole theme. The theme is a bit of a contraption, lots of stuff is hard-coded that shouldn’t be, and if someone tried to use this theme off-the-shelf they would go mad trying to get it to work.

    Still, the random quotes and images are good and shouldn’t be too hard to share.

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  14. Gothmog says:

    Hahahah! That was certainly awkward. I subscribed, using bloglines, to the comments of this post long ago, just in case you ever revisit publishing your wordpress theme… On top of this- I have a media PC that scrolls recent new postings- you can see where I’m going with this. My wife calls me @ work:

    “Umm… Honey, why does it say ‘Anal Porn’ on the TV?”

    (Since Shamus will no doubt delete the above spam comment it’s Subject is ‘Anal Porn’. Heck, feel free to delete this comment too, Shamus)

    Hoo boy- that took some quick explaining!

  15. John says:

    Thanks for posting this article. Many info I got here.Keep writing

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